The never ending work: how the sacred mountain of Tindaya buried Eduardo Chillida

Every total artist always has a deadly triple moment without a net that ends in absolute glory or maximum scorch. Eduardo Chillida’s was the emptying of the Tindaya mountain (La Oliva, Fuerteventura) to create an empty cube 50 meters on a side (equivalent to a 17-storey building). His definitive monumental work, his pyramids, he does not go over a creative life, the obsession that moved (literally) mountains.

But Chillida was stamped alive (he died in 2002) against Tindaya.

Chillida’s words about Tindaya in the nineties; From illusion to confrontation: 1) “I want to create a great empty space inside a mountain, and that it is for all men. Empty the mountain.” 2) “I am not for business, my only ambition is to create a useful space for all humanity, that when a human being enters that empty cube he feels human smallness in its fullness … If Tindaya is done it will be the culmination of a dream”. 3) “It is one of the most important projects of my life, but there are some gentlemen, to call them in some way, who do not want to do it. I don’t buy it“.

From the work for all humanity … to fighting with part of humanity.

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Engaged in the colossal project that would give meaning to a life, the Tindaya controversy produced a “strange ulcer” in Chillida, who turned against his “enemies”: “Tindaya is stopped by a gang of hooligans and uneducated who don’t know a word of art … Tindaya will be done even if I don’t see it“, prophesied the Basque sculptor in 1999. Thugs and uneducated. Poligoneros against Chillida? No, Canarian geologists, archaeologists and ecologists. We are talking about the most bitter collision between ecology and art ever in Spain.

This is how Chillida’s work in Tindaya would have looked from the inside.

The book ‘In praise of the horizon’ collects a 90s conversation between Chillida and José Antonio Fernández Ordóñez, engineer, collaborator of the sculptor and first person in charge of Tindaya’s work:

Ordonez: Talking about Tindaya is not easy.

Chillida: No, but I have very good feelings.

Ordonez: Since I discovered the mountain by chance, since I called you, since you went… Everything was very filmed. The material, the beauty, the place, the possibility of doing it, the Canarian government itself … The only negative aspect has been the environmentalists, who really have not understood because they have not wanted to.

Chillida: Due to the intellectual level that I have seen in some of those ecologists, perhaps they have been able to think that what we are going to do is the mountain split from the model.

Ordonez: It’s possible.

Chillida: And then, of course, you explain that it seems nonsense to them. But they have not understood that this is to see how it would have been inside.

Ordonez: Well, Tindaya is a wonderful project. Apart from being artistically fantastic, technically it is unique in the world. Humanity has not done something like this since the pyramids or the Pantheon in Rome. They are monuments that are counted on the fingers of the hand, like Santa Sofia. There are hardly any monuments of that caliber.

Chillida: By dimension above all.

Ordonez: It is of a dimension and a purity that would be unique in the history of humanity, I am convinced.

Chillida: Well, nothing, let’s see if it comes out.

Ordonez: I think it will come out.

Chillida: I also believe it.

“Humanity has not done something like this since the pyramids or the Pantheon in Rome. They are monuments that are counted on the fingers”

Everything had started in a classic way: with an ‘intuition’ of the artist. “The mountain project had haunted me for many years. An empty mountain. I was already then (1980) with those ideas in my head. But it was a stage of projects, of utopias, things that I would not have thought could really be done” Chillida said in her conversation book.

In the mid-eighties, the sculptor began to look for his mountain, proposals came to him from Switzerland, Finland and Italy, but none suited his wishes, until Tindaya appeared, a mountain with primitive remains of Fuerteventura, a natural monument, well of interest cultural and geological point of interest. Mountain therefore potentially problematic.

The Canarian government gave the green light to the Chillida project in 1995. Three years later, the work was awarded to FCC and Entrecanales for 8,450 million pesetas (50 million euros). The project, surrounded by scandal from the beginning, never got off the ground and has been dying for years, after endless judicial and political ups and downs, including a commission of inquiry in the regional parliament. In 2019, the Cabildo de Fuerteventura definitively discarded the idea. Now, the Government of the Canary Islands has started the process to extend protection to the entire mountain and not just to its summit, which will make it impossible for the work to be carried out.

A musical hug for Eduardo Chillida

Milagros Martín-Lunas

“Tindaya is a clear example of speculation around a heritage asset. The aim was to turn it into an artistic intervention, underestimating the monument that already existed to the detriment of a piece of contemporary art. The signs of the Majorero people were not valued “, he explains Jose Farrujia, Doctor in History and professor at the University of La Laguna.

“If we focus on archaeological values, the mountain of Tindaya has the highest concentration of podomorphs (engravings in the shape of feet) in the entire Canary Islands“Farrujia adds. These podomorphs, similar to those that can also be found in North Africa and that allow for connections between the Canarian aborigines and the Amazig peoples, are at the top, the area protected until now.

The partial protection leaves out other structures that are related to the sacred use of the mountain and allows a project like Chillida’s to develop. “It had to be a judicial ruling (after a lawsuit imposed by the Ben Magec environmental federation) that forced the Cabildo to delimit the protection of Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC). The result was the most constricted, legal but shameful delimitation of history. The delimitation was just a few centimeters from the tunnel that would open in the mountain. In short, a BIC tailored to a foolish project. The new delimitation will correct this barbarity “, he says Jesús Giráldez, historian, spokesperson for the Montaña de Tindaya coordinator and author of the book ‘Tindaya: power against myth’.

“The Altamira paintings are concentrated in one part of the caves. It would be absurd for the section of wall that concentrates the paintings to be protected, leaving the rest of the cave unprotected. Now it is guaranteed that the mountain is protected in its entirety and that the uses are not compatible with other types of activities, “adds Farrujia.

Examples of podomorph in the mountain of Tindaya. (EFE)

The play had noisy opposition against it from day one. ‘Metropolis’ (La 2) traveled to Tindaya in 1997 to know the opinion of the Canarian culture. Polarized testimonials collected by the program:

Antonia Perera, archaeologist: “The budget of Tindaya’s work is insulting for an island with a limited cultural offer, without an archaeological museum, without a heritage entity that functions as such. It is a clear example of cultural colonialism.”

Juan Antonio del Castillo, architect: “Fuerteventura lends itself to an intervention like Chillida’s, because there is plenty of light, air and sun. The way to teach that light will be to go in and out of a dark place. It’s amazing ”.

Juan Carlos Carracedo, geologist: “I would ask Chillida not to collaborate in the destruction of one of our most important landscape elements. Any Canarian sculptor would respect the Basque landscape or the landscape of the Peninsula, no one would dare to pierce Mount Igueldo or Naranco de Bulnes “.

Pedro González, painter: “It will be a landmark work not only for the Canary Islands, but for world art”.

“Is Mister Chillida allowed what the rest of us humans would be unable to do?”

Carmelo Padrón, architect and socialist politician: “Mr. Chillida is allowed what the rest of us humans would be impossible?”

Fernando Castro, historian: “No one had cared about the supposed sacredness of the mountain until Chillida designated it as a work of art … [No hacer la obra de Tindaya] it is the death of art ”.

Antonio Tejera, archaeologist: “If we act in that place, the ban would be opened for the clutches of speculation to reach the rest of the protected places, and the process of destruction could be infinite.”

Juan Cruz, journalist: “The project underlines a place in a respectful way, and prevents the underlining from being mean, that in the future Tindaya becomes a place of speculation … Chillida is the first ecologist”.

But the ‘petty’ messes of money, brick, and corruption soon came to Chillida’s project. Tangles between the administration, the Tindaya mine concessionaire and the companies in charge of the work. In 2011, there was a new impetus to the project that foresaw an investment of 75 million euros. The then president of the Canary Islands, Paulino Rivero, he hastened to clarify that not one would come out of the pocket of the citizens. “It will not cost the Administration a penny because it will be financed with the concession for the tourist exploitation of the monument”, He said the leader of the Canarian Coalition, the party that has most supported the artist’s idea, although it has not been the only one.

“Those people [la familia Chillida] He is insatiable, you name Tindaya and they get their eyes like Uncle Scrooge “

When he said that, a lot of public money had been wasted years ago, starting with the 900 million pesetas that the Canary Islands paid to the concessionaires for the rights of the mine to extract stone (trachyte, used for cladding facades) that was opened in 1982 in Tindaya. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office investigated a surcharge of 700 million. The work of FCC and Entrecanales was not carried out, but the regional government advanced money to the construction companies and later claimed it without success in court.

“Geotechnical surveys, loans, legal cases, media campaigns, trips, models, documentaries or market studies. Our calculations approximate the sum of public money spent to 30 million euros“, points out Giráldez.

Despite having everything against to get ahead, Chillida’s family has not abandoned the idea of ​​the project. Until a year ago he defended the 2011 agreement and demanded a public investment of at least 25 million euros. Giráldez is very critical of the descendants of the Basque artist. “They know that the project is technically very complex (let’s remember: a flat roof 50 meters on a side that must support millions of tons), an incalculable work time and nobody guarantees its economic profitability. That is why part of the Chillida family has once again insisting on more public investment. Those people are insatiable, you name Tindaya and they get their eyes like Uncle Scrooge. ”

“Tindaya seems fantastic to me. What is needed is for the mountain to like what I want to do in there,” Chillida said in her conversation book. If the mountain does not go to Muhammad, Muhammad will go to the mountain. That is, when things go wrong, it may be better to do them differently. But Chillida insisted that Tindaya come to him. And it did not come.

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